By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
As I have discussed in recent articles, coaching education courses within the US have changed dramatically within the last four years. The biggest change, the one that caused the loudest outcry and undoubtedly the one that will cause the most benefit, is the move from destination learning to process learning.
US Soccer and to a lesser degree the NSCAA are now running courses based upon the realistic premise that learning takes time and practice. That new skill sets have to be introduced, practiced, reflected upon, practiced again and again over time before they can be considered learned. US Soccer have now extended their pathway so that any license above the E is a process carried out over a number of months or years. The most recent update of these higher level courses also goes far beyond merely teaching coaches to run better practice sessions. The courses now look at the profile of a coach and educates them in all the aspects of a coach at that level. So as a brief example, the profile of a C license coach examines leadership, coaching a game, managing your environment, running a practice and leading players, to name but a few. Undoubtedly these courses take more time and effort than previous courses, yes process learning (REAL LEARNING) takes time, effort and means practicing making mistakes, learning and trying again.
For the most part, the courses have been well received with those dedicated to becoming quality coaches and understanding learning is a journey and not a destination eager to grasp the new opportunity these courses present. I say in the most part because I still deal with weekly calls from “expert coaches” claiming the pathway is too long, too intense, too demanding and stating quite clearly they could master the skills in a day or two. Often at the end of these conversations, I reflect upon the youth soccer culture and some of the issues within it.
So as the concept of process learning and the associated learning cycle: practice, make mistakes, practice again, adjust (learn) with effective feedback and start again is staple of my everyday life, I can’t help but wonder why the majority of soccer parents do not understand this most basic principle. Why do the majority of parents demand instant learning and success? Why are so few willing to give players and coaches time to learn, to play and practice, make mistakes (enjoy the process) and start again?
I fully understand that supporting the concept of process learning means that the immediate reward, the we want it now philosophy, must be abandoned as the two schools of thought are complete opposites. I also understand the benefit of any soccer parent reading this explaining to their child in a quiet and loving tone that, “I understand you love playing and I know that learning the game will take time and that of course you will make mistakes. Don’t worry about these, just enjoy playing. Learning is a journey we will enjoy together and the mistakes don’t matter I will enjoy watching you play and learn.”
As we head into a new season, I invite all coaches, players and parents alike to embrace the idea of the learning cycle and celebrate the journey it takes to reach perfection. Abandon the we want it now win at all costs mantra that haunts most youth teams and help create a tipping point in youth soccer.